Sunday, November 29, 2015

Recoil Cross

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.

If you’re the lead character in the 1999 movie “Fight Club,” then eventually you’re going to realize that you are fighting against yourself. Today as I lined up for my final cyclocross race of 2015, I already knew that I was fighting against myself. The dry, 34-degree air was triggering my asthma and I didn’t have my inhaler. But I felt honored to be at Recoil Cross and I didn’t want just to walk away, so I banged out a couple of laps before calling it a day.

What? You haven’t heard of Recoil Cross? That might be because it was an unsanctioned race on private land in Beechwood, an unincorporated community that you may or may not be able to find on a map. It’s home to the equally underground Beechwood Blaster mountain bike race. Fight Club wouldn’t be Fight Club if you couldn’t talk about it, because there has to be some way to bring in new people. And Beechwood wouldn’t be Beechwood if it were weighed down by entry fees, waivers, insurance, USA Cycling categories, minimum course width requirements, or prohibitions on dogs running next to the racers. You can talk about Beechwood, but only to people who will be cool about it.

My participation at Beechwood was a surprise; I didn’t hear about the race until Tuesday. (I know a guy who knows a guy.) Until that email arrived, I thought my racing season had ended at CamRock back on November 14. But “free” and “close” go a long way with me. My two practice laps plus my two race laps plus a few extra miles of messing around yielded a much better workout than I otherwise would have gotten today, even if I wasn’t able to give 100 percent.

There were about 30 racers overall, including some of the state’s fastest female racers. For people like Wisconsin’s top pro, Brian Matter, Beechwood was an off-week training opportunity in a season that still holds more goals. Jingle Cross, a UCI event, takes place in Iowa next weekend. Our national championships will be held January 5-10 in Asheville NC. The cyclocross season isn’t over for everyone, and today you could tell who was still in race mode and who was just having fun. Whatever your objectives today, you were welcome. Beer and conversation flowed freely around a campfire when the race was over. I missed the state championships and the end-of-season party last weekend at Waterloo, so today’s event allowed me to finish the season on a good note. It was fun in the company of friends.

Just enough friends. Too many cooks spoil the soap.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rack ‘Em Up

I admit it: I am really reaching for motivation. I found just enough over the last two days to set a new personal record for miles in November. I now have five new PRs this year:

01/2015  241
02/2012  137
03/2015  538
04/2010  650
05/2009  750
06/2015  816
07/2011 1,020
08/2015  826
09/2009  800
10/2014  534
11/2015  333
12/2012  175

My old record for November was 330, set in 2012. So, I haven’t crushed it … and I won’t, but I might ride a little more before the end of the month.

December only appears to be “low-hanging fruit.” No one should underestimate what it might take to surpass 175 miles in this climate.

My year-to-date total is 6,074. That already tops my old record of 5,236, set in 2014.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Grease Is The Word

Today I lined up my bikes for a little maintenance: fresh grease for the pedals and seatposts. The work was easy, but it’s also easy to overlook these tasks. Years ago when I wasn’t as mindful of maintenance, I had a pair of pedals so firmly attached to the crankarms that I thought I would never separate them. I was lucky to solve that problem, but not without a ton of effort. I never have had a seized seatpost, which can be a very serious issue. Attempting to free a seized seatpost is hard work at best and an equipment killer at worst. It takes maybe 5 minutes per bike to pull, clean, grease, and re-install the pedals and seatpost, and a single $6 tube of grease like Park Tool’s excellent PPL-1 will last for years. As the late, great Sheldon Brown said, “28 grams of prevention are worth 454 grams of cure.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

With Necessity Even The Gods Do Not Contend

Public discourse this week has focused largely on religion, particularly on the merits of Christianity and Islam. Sorting out that mess is far beyond the scope of my little cycling blog, but I will say this: religious and secular laws alike must bow, as they always have, to the laws of nature, to those things that are truly necessary. For example, no religion compels its adherents not to eat. You may not be allowed to eat certain things, or at certain times, or in certain places, or in the company of certain people, but you are allowed to eat.

In identifying a hierarchy of needs applicable to all of us, psychologist Abraham Maslow provided a reminder that humans are animals first. And like all animals our most basic physiological needs must be met before we can trouble ourselves with the complexities of society. Expressed graphically, Maslow’s hierarchy is a pyramid where things like food and water are the foundation. Progressing through less concrete layers, we eventually reach the top: self-actualization. To put it simply, that’s the point at which the individual has made his greatest effort to reach his greatest potential. Self-actualization is completely subjective. You decide what you want to be, and you decide the criteria by which you succeed or fail. That’s a classically liberal goal with infinite possibilities, but the well-worn path of the suicide bomber remains open to the unimaginative.

I keep a comprehensive To Do list but never once has it urged me to “work on self-actualization.” It often urges me to ride my bike, and that may be as close as I get to the top of the pyramid. My pyramid. Again, the goal is subjective, and I don’t have to be the Tour de France champion to be satisfied. Cycling is a physical manifestation of who I am. This week, then, has been a bummer because I haven’t been able to ride. Between bad weather and other circumstances, I haven’t ridden since Sunday and I don’t know when I will ride again. This is the week that winter weather arrives, just in time to wipe out my participation in the state cyclocross championships. The best I can do in freezing temperatures on a snow-covered course is not the best I can do. It’s pointless in a way that just lining up against racers of much greater ability is not.

The top of the pyramid is elusive by design, but sometimes even the less lofty layers are a challenge. When the foundation fails, it pulls everything down. For me there is relief at the end of the 2015 cycling season because less egocentric matters also demand my attention … and my money. I was very fortunate not to suffer any real setbacks during my period of unemployment earlier this year, but in the two months since I went back to work it seems like life has decided it doesn’t need to go easy on me anymore. Commuting 300 miles per week has revealed a host of problems with my vehicle that were either unknown or unimportant when I worked from home. Since mid-September I have replaced the tires, the battery, the engine’s oxygen sensors, and a headlight, totaling more than $1,000 in parts and labor. A few issues remain but they are not an immediate threat, and I have problems beyond the garage. My old desktop computer requires a reboot at least once a day. Cyber Monday was good to me last year when I had plenty of disposable income and it will have to be good again this year when I do not. I rely heavily on my PC, so there goes another pile of money. But the real budget killer could be my home furnace, which continues to provide heat but now makes unsettling noises that suggest an unfavorable change to its 20-year-old workings. Looking at the big picture, I didn’t spend a ton of money on cycling this year. Nonetheless, I’m glad to be done spending on it until 2016.

And cycling isn’t alone in the self-actualization layer; there are other pursuits that I consider central to my life and in the six weeks that remain this year I want to give them more time and effort. Earlier this week I finished my first book of 2015 and already I am halfway through the second. I used to read 25-30 every year. It’s time to rediscover the home gym, too, as my upper body strength training sessions have lacked focus and results in recent weeks.

If the weather improves between now and the end of the month, then I will get back on the bike to set a personal record for miles in November. But that’s a small prize for which I am not willing to do anything heroic. In the most likely scenario I will hike more than I ride between now and the end of the year. The simple act of walking through the woods takes me back to the idylls of my childhood in West Newton PA, where I was more fully self-actualized than I have been at any time since.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Records Falling, Enthusiasm Failing

See that map? The red lines represent the 32 miles I rode on my cyclocross bike today. Only a couple of them were at Hiestand Park, site of the penultimate WCA cyclocross race of 2015. I previewed the course, hated every inch of it, asked the USA Cycling official to remove my name from the start list, then went off in search of consolation. I had never seen the Hiestand course before, and I don’t expect to see it again.

Saturday’s trip to CamRock was a little disappointing too, though the course was very much to my liking. I rode well, probably even better than last year when I had a good result as a Cat 4. But I’m racing against a much stronger field now, and placing 18th of 26 overall in Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4, 13th of 15 Cat 3s, won’t impress anyone. Fellow West Bender Troy Sable (unattached) made the jump to Cat 3 a few weeks ago and he also is finding the competition to be much tougher and much deeper at this level. On Saturday, Troy and I were locked in a really good back-and-forth battle for most of the race. Unfortunately it ended with an anticlimax. I thought we had 1 lap to go when we approached the finish line for the last time, so I didn’t put up a fight when Troy passed me. It was stupid of me not to realize that a late pass by 35+ age group winner Scott Daubert (Trek Cyclocross Collective) had put us a lap down. Mike Curtes (Milwaukee Bicycle Co.) won the 45+ age group.

On Saturday I surpassed 6,000 miles of cycling, year-to-date. It’s my first time above the 6,000-mile threshold, a place I never expected to be back in 2011 as I was approaching my first 5,000-mile season. What did I say then? Oh, yeah: “The next plateau, 6,000 miles, is neither realistic nor attractive.”

Well, I really mean it this time: nuts to 7,000. That’s just excessive.

Saturday was my 205th day of cycling this year, breaking my old record of 204. So, today was 206 and anything more will be … more. But rain and much colder weather—perhaps even snow—will arrive this week and I am looking for the exit. Today’s experience in Madison was the biggest “fuck this” moment I have ever had as a cyclist. I am physically strong but mentally fatigued, and my participation in the state championship race next Saturday is far from guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It’s Not Repetition, It’s Discipline

This week my training has been … uniform. Let’s go with uniform. We have had good weather but there’s so little daylight now. I would like to go to bed soon after arriving home from my overnight job, but some days I stay up to complete chores, then I ride, then I sleep. It’s not ideal. Tomorrow and Friday will be exceptionally windy and not as warm, so I’m taking tomorrow completely off from cycling and on Friday I probably will content myself with a short indoor trainer ride.

Better weather will return for the weekend. It’s going to be dry, sunny, and 50-something in Dane County for CamRock on Saturday and TBD Cross on Sunday. I’ve been waiting for weeks for TBD to be determined, but it turns out the name of the event really is TBD Cross. I remember one day in elementary school when a kid wrote “Your Name” on the top of his answer sheet. He didn’t graduate with the rest of us and I lost track of him. Maybe he’s a race promoter now.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The 2016 WEMS Schedule

Late on Friday evening, the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series announced its 2016 race schedule. These are the same events we saw in 2015, but reshuffled so that they hit different spots on the calendar. Thunderdown in the Underdown will replace Romp in the Swap as the season finale and championship.

04/30 The Wild Ride Buzzard Buster @ Hatfield
05/07 Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge @ Greenbush
05/21 18 Hours of Alpine Valley @ Elkhorn
06/04 Romp in the Swamp Epic @ Wausau
06/18 Southern Kettles Classic @ Eagle
07/16 Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
08/27 RASTA Rock N Root @ Rhinelander
09/17 Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane
10/08 Thunderdown in the Underdown @ Gleason

Stump Farm fell on May 23 this year, and the weather was nice enough but I am really looking forward to racing there next July. I hope it’s hotter than hell. Mark me down for the New Fane race, too. The other races in the series probably don’t fit my still-developing plans for 2016.

The Switch In Time That Saved Nine

Special thanks to Jon Holcomb! The former race director of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS) event in Sheboygan has stepped up to keep the Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge on the WEMS schedule. Team Pedal Moraine decided early last week that it would not host the race. Holcomb will rally GEARS (our regional IMBA chapter) and the FatKats Mountain Bike Club for trail preparation and race administration at Greenbush. WORS will drop from a 12-race schedule to a 10-race schedule in 2016, and WEMS was in danger of dropping from 9 races to just 8. It would have been a shame to see the Greenbush race go away.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

2015 Estabrook Park Beer Garden CX

(Steve Cummins photo)

In 2011 I had a disappointing day at the Estabrook Park cyclocross race in Milwaukee. On that occasion, my own inability to get clipped into my pedals ruined my start and put me hopelessly behind. Today I returned to Estabrook for the first time since that disappointment, only to have another.

It was no trouble getting clipped in as the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race began. I made a strong start from the middle of the second row, putting some very good riders behind me. For a moment I dared to entertain the thought of a high finish. I was running with the big dogs … until I ran into one of the biggest. JW Miller (Erik's) has been a prolific winner in both cyclocross and mountain bike racing. But even the best make mistakes. On a course that narrowed quickly after the starting chute, Miller got entangled with a pole and some course tape and slowed abruptly. I was inches behind him and had nowhere to go but right up his back. In the seconds that we needed to separate, Miller and I lost a bunch of positions. He was bleeding a little and I thought I had done real damage to his bike, but he was able to resume.

Today’s field was very strong and I knew that the crash had ended any chance of a Top 10 for me. As I resumed, my first order of business was to retake the positions I had lost to my closest rivals. Brian Petted (Team Extreme), Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Scott Willms (Emery’s) and West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) were ahead of me now. It took me a little while to move up, and I never did catch Sable, who would finish in 21st place, the last man on the lead lap. The race leader put me a lap behind as I was approaching the finish line for what otherwise would have been my bell lap. Knowing that the leader had just come through, I redoubled my effort to overtake Peter Tampa (Rat City Racers). I caught him on a sharp little hill with just a few hundred yards to go. That gave me 22nd place out of 29 overall. I was 13th out of the 14 Cat 3 racers. I had the legs to be 3 or 4 spots higher. Mike Curtes (Twin Six) took the win, followed by John Lirette (unattached) and Tedd Jacobson (KS Energy Services / MOSH / Team Wisconsin).

Today was my 200th day of cycling in 2015. This is just the second time I have reached 200 rides: I did 204 back in 2012 and that record should fall next week.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Better You Than Me

nine minutes thirty-seven seconds later ...
Yesterday was a Halloween of more tricks than treats. I went through the day dressed as a guy who couldn’t be bothered with the rainy, muddy, and chilly cyclocross race at Washington Park in Milwaukee. By late morning my Facebook newsfeed was filling up with pictures and videos of friends who seemed to revel in the filth, but I didn’t feel like I had missed out. By mid-afternoon my decision to stay home turned into a very good thing for my son, who called for my assistance when he got his first glimpse of the dark side of car ownership. I drove to his location, took a quick spin around a parking lot to understand his concerns, then followed him to the nearest service center. Tomorrow we will know whether he has a $100 problem or a $500 problem.

Yes, Saturday was ugly, but hopefully it was just one bad day in an otherwise nice sequence for this time of year. Friday was nice enough. Today was even better, and I got back in the saddle for a 27-mile road ride. I am now just 232 miles away from my first 6,000-mile season. Getting to 6,000 isn’t guaranteed; I rode just 316 miles in the final two months of 2014. But I will push myself a little bit in the week to come. The next four days will be dry and 60-70 degrees, probably our last stretch of such weather until next April or May.

There’s more at stake than a new mileage plateau. I want to hit the four cyclocross races that remain on the WCA schedule, starting with Estabrook Park in Milwaukee next Saturday. To be fit for that race, for the following weekend in Dane County, and for the state championships on November 21, I need to get my training volume back up. In the week that ended today, I rode just 74 miles in 4.5 hours. That’s my worst week since March 23-29.